My first BOOK!

>> Saturday, April 12, 2014

At long last with a self-crafted book cover, I have self-published my first e-book: Conjuring Dreams And it's FREE!


"Magic-wielders, shape-shifters, mermaids, empaths and diviners and even teddy bears and computer programmers wander through 26 stories, written into life for situations thought-provoking, compelling or absurd. It's a collection of diverse stories, from the first one written when Stephanie Barr (then Beck) was13-14 years old to the last ones finished last year. The tales show off not only Stephanie's eclectic imagination but the growth of her story telling as she taught herself to write (in the way she wanted to) through writing. So it's all fiction and totally autobiographical at the same time. "

Smashwords: Conjuring Dreams

Hopefully soon it will also be distributed at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. Will post links when I have them. There are, however, formats available for most if not all readers/computers already available at the Smashwords link. There's also an interview of me.


I've also put it on Amazon but they wouldn't let me do it for free so it's 99 cents: 

Amazon: Conjuring Dreams

My suggestion is to go ahead and download it for free on Smashwords since they have Kindle format there.

More books (namely novels) are coming so "stay tuned".

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I finally figured it out.

>> Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I liked manga and even yaoi, even before my husband left me, but I've been pretty consumed by it the past two years or so since he's been gone. I'm open-minded and all but even I was a little stumped as to why it (Boy's Love manga) was so fascinating to me, why I've all but ignored my regular novels and the like, why even the shoujo mangas I'm stilling buying new volumes of (to finish the series) were languishing while I read and reread my favorite yaoi.

What is it?

(For those of you who think this is better suited to my Rocket Scientist blog because this is all about me rather than the manga, fear not, I'm cross-posting it).

Today, as I'm wiping away tears reading a manga I've read before (single volume: Dekichatta Danshi by Mikagi Tsubaki), I think I finally figured it out, not just why I'm focused on manga, but focused on yaoi in particular. The tears, by the way, were only slightly because the story was touching (though it was) - mostly I was jealous because the touchy hard-case main character had someone who loved him desperately, unequivocally, with everything he had. I just loved Yu and I'd love to have him for myself.

Not Yu specifically (since he's way too young for me and I'm not doing that again, not to mention he's in love with someone else, oh, and fictional), but someone who loved me, treasured me. I used to believe I'd have someone like that in my life.

Now, of course, not so much; I'm pretty much sure that ain't gonna happen. But, for a long time after Lee left, I was starting to question if it EVER happens, if it's ever real. I mean, I love my children with everything. I cherish and treasure them (yes, not the same, but that notion that someone means more to you than yourself, that is the same) so I know that kind of love exists. And, intellectually, I know couples for whom that kind of thinking is part and parcel of their relationship, even if there are little strifes here and there. That devotion to one another remains at the core of their lives.

But I'd lost my faith in that magic. My faith in people who lay it all on the line (as I once did), who strive and struggle because there is someone in their lives they just can't lose no matter what. My faith in the happy ending.

And that was a serious concern for me. Not so much for how I live my life - I can survive the rest of my years as a bitter cynic, probably still even be a good mother if a little extra sarcastic, which probably won't bother my remaining children (the ones that live at home) until/if they start talking.

But it kept me from writing anything knew fiction-wise and that was becoming a serious concern. When I write, I have to feel it or it won't come across genuine, won't come across real. It's not enough to tell myself it's true intellectually - I have to believe it.

Now, of course, I could write novels without any hint of romance, but I don't want to. I've almost always had some sort of romantic mush in my novels because I like it, I like reading it, I want to write it. I want to write novels that still believe in magic and romance and overcoming the nigh impossible. I don't want to be a cynical writer.


So, Stephanie (the person) had to recapture her belief in the wonder of romance in a life chronically deprived of same (and an argument could be made it always was) or she could never be Stephanie (the writer) again. Hence, mangas, where words and characters have more power because, hey, pictures. And yaoi because, hey, most are only a volume or two, the diversity in stories and scenarios is staggering, and the romance (in the good ones) is in your face - immediate and urgent because, on the whole, the romantic partners have a great deal more on the line, and stand a greater chance in losing everything just by mentioning their interest.

(For those of you who think I should publish this on The Unlikely Otaku, since that's about my reviewing manga and that obsession of mine, fear not, I'm cross-posting it there).

There are many other things in yaoi that are rather in your face (so be warned), but that's not why I read it (and the really smutty ones that are all sex/violence and nothing else don't interest me at all). I need that romance, I need to believe in it again.

I've read Dekichatta Danshi before and I didn't cry, I didn't feel it the same way. But this time, I did. I think that means I'm getting it back.

Yay, me.

Read more...

How I Got Started

>> Monday, November 25, 2013

In the last post, I noted that short stories were a large portion of my writing history, how I got to where I am (though most of you probably don't really know where I am - I'm hoping to change that).

In reality, the short stories were phase 2 of my self-imposed writing tutelage. I have a huge backlog of poetry from high school and college, but I'm not sure I'll ever publish those. They're early and I was so very very young.

During the course of putting those short stories together, though, I remembered when I first started writing, or, perhaps more importantly, started keeping the writing I was doing rather than just writing it then tossing the poems and haiku I'd written to that point.

Although I've been writing since I was ten or eleven, most of the poetry (what I wrote first) I read over, thought, "Hey, not bad," and threw away. It wasn't until I wrote "A Cold Wind on the Hill" (at thirteen or thereabouts) and showed my father that the situation changed. Although not a fiction lover himself, my father made me promise never to throw any of my writing away again. Even the stuff I should have thrown away (which I didn't include in the book).

It is, at least in part, due to him that I began to document my imaginings and learned to appreciate sharing the stories with an audience. Perhaps because of that, I continued to pursue writing even after I became an engineer and a mother and had days packed with too many other things to do. I still had to tell stories, had to write, had to write down and save what I did write (even when it stunk).   

This was that poem.

                 A Cold Wind on the Hill

            One August morning as nighttime had paled,
            Fighting broke out as the peacetalkers failed
            And the War had begun that no one would win.
            Grieved for His children, He looked on His kin
            And sent down an angel to quiet the din.

            But no one would listen for he had no right
            To sue them for peace when they wanted to fight,
            Till, fin'ly, repuls├ęd, he fled in disgrace,
            Quite sick to the heart for the Master he'd face
            To tell of the end of the earth's human race.

            Yet, though it seemed futile, God, too, had to try
            To keep all those missiles from wounding the sky,
            But man just ignored Him and forced His retreat,
            Weeping with grief for His mankind's defeat,
            And for their blind bloodlust he couldn't unseat.

            So, man set his guns up, his missiles, his bombs
            And sent them all out on one hot August dawn.
            Then cities exploded in huge clouds of dust,
            While millions were killed in this "political must,"
            Whole nations reduced to just heat-blackened crust.

            Now, on a small hill does a lone Figure stand,
            With tears in His eyes and blood on His hands.
            The land all is barren; the grey air is still,
            Which tortures that gentle Soul there on the hill,
            As, for once in His life, God, Himself, feels a chill.

Thanks, Dad. I love you, though you're gone now.

But I didn't yet appreciate that I wanted to write or what I wanted to write. It was later in high school that I realized, what I wanted to do was not just write, but to write fiction, write stories, created entirely from my own mind, rather than just report on what had already happened, or writing about "stuff." I remember fondly when I first realized that what I wanted to do—what I would always want to do—was tell stories. I had an assignment in high school to write an essay about an ordinary object one could find at home. But I couldn't just describe something; I had to tell a story. Even my poetry tended toward long and epic stories. 

The "bones" of that "essay" became my first short story: Charley (and I also wrote a poem version of this). Though prose, it was only a short step from the poetry I'd written up to that point, the use of the sound of language, the emotional manipulation. Of everything I've written, it is still my eldest daughter's favorite.

I love you, Stephanie (yes, that's my eldest daughter's name).

Charley is the story that will kick off my anthology, Creating Dreams.

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History => Future

>> Saturday, November 23, 2013

So, I came up with a self-publishing plan, taking wisdom from the suggestions from the Smash Words site founder (and my friend, Darrell Nelson, who pointed me to Smash Words and gave me other advice) and taking advantage my own considerable backlog of written work. Several books on how-to write/market ebooks on Smash Words are available for free and are recommended (by me): Smash Words Style Guide, Smash Words Book Marketing Guide, and The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Now this seems all Smash Words heavy (and it is, because that's the direction I chose to go, but I really appreciated the philosophy I saw and heard, so I was sold), but, by all means, do your own research and decide for yourself if you're interested. This is what I found that seemed most useful.

Among the many things I learned:

  1. Keep expectations low and be prepared for the long haul. Long term practices can be more effective for e-books than are allowed for print books, since they don't turn into pumpkins after X amount of time. 
  2. Multiple books out at once is useful since people who like one book will likely look for more under the same "brand" - your name. That's cool, too. I have several books I feel are publishable now. 
  3. Longer works do better (unless they're bloated and clumsy - see below). Woot! My books mostly clock in at close to 100K or longer. 
  4. Free books or books free for a period of time can rapidly expand readership. Free books get downloaded the most. 
  5. Smash Words publishes ebooks in formats that are copy-protection free, noting that freaking out over thievery/piracy is counterproductive. I totally agree. Will probably write a whole post on my view on this at a later date.
 Things noted that I already knew.
  1. The essential element for any chance of success is a good book. Write a crappy book and the optimum price, formatting, marketing, etc won't make it popular. People don't want to pay for something unless they feel they get something in return. Even with free books, hey, a reader's time has value, too. If your book is garbage, self-publishing won't change that. I love that Smash Words put this obvious (but frequently ignored) wisdom front and center. 
  2. Don't plan to get rich (which is fine -  have a good day job), but this can give you an opportunity to share your vision, your reading, your stories with others - which is all I ever wanted.
So, I changed my original game plan.

Rather than pop out with my Bete novel series (what I consider my most "marketable" work), I want to build readership and, with luck and hopefully my actual work, build a readership and learn from them. So, to start and to put a free book out there for people to "check me out", I thought I'd put together a book of my short stories.

I loved my short stories and they were a huge part of my learning to write, teaching myself skills I use in my novels today. Marketing them, however, is more than I was willing to take time for. Putting them in a book not only gives me something to allow people to see my style and writing (in relatively small doses), but allows these pieces to be shared. And I can also show how my writing has grown and matured over time (though that didn't cross my mind until I started putting it together).

I'm actually pretty stoked. Clock is ticking it down; hopefully, I'll have one or two books available publicly by the end of the calendar year. I'm just waiting to see if I can get some decent covers.

Read more...

And I'm back in the game...

>> Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thought I'd died, hadn't you? Well, I was wondering if I was going to do any more writing myself, but I'm finding a new plan, a way to reinvigorate my creativity and put my stories back out into the world. More on that later, as well as my insight into the art of writing.

But, in the meantime, I have an announcement:

As I might have mentioned once or twice before, I write fiction (yes, I'm back to present tense) and last year I had a story included in SQ e-zine.  This year, they're publishing that story among their bests and it's available for purchase in both print and ebook (my story and eighteen others) in a book called Star Quake 1. I don't know everywhere it's available, but I know it's available at both Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.

It's not a big thing, as real writing goes, but it's big for me.

More news, I'm gearing up to take my rather large backlog of novels and short stories and self-publish in ebook form (some of many different flavors of electronic book at once). Not because I don't believe in it, but because I do. I don't want to get rich. I want to tell stories. I want people to have the opportunity to actually read them.

One way or another, that's just what I'm going to do.

Stay tuned.


I will be back with writing related stuff. Time to dust off my brain and creativity and get to blogging with a purpose again.

Read more...

No, I'm not dead. Really...

>> Friday, April 5, 2013

I even have writing related news, though I haven't really written anything in two years. Which is probably a bad thing.

But a short story I got published in a eZine has been selected for that same organization's printed anthology, so there you go. The short story is "Masks" which I mentioned here before. And I found out in the wee hours this morning when I inexplicably got up at 3:30 am and checked my mail.

Congratulations!

You have been chosen to be published in SQ Mag's 2012 Anthology.

From the numerous amazing stories we received last year, yours were outstanding and we decided they needed to be published.

More details will be forthcoming, but in order to make sure all of our information is up to date, can I ask you to send your most recent bio (please let me know if you are happy with what is already on SQ Mag - www.sqmag.com)?

Thank you again for choosing to send your story to us.

Kind regards

Sophie Yorkston
Editor, SQ Mag
Cool, eh? When I wrote this bio, I was still married. I like the humor in it but I should probably update it:

Stephanie Barr has spent the past 22 years working in the space industry as a rocket scientist, raising three demon children and trying to save the world by keeping her husband, a dragon, in check. Sometimes, she finds time to write.
 Any ideas how I can update this without the dragon but still with humor? Feel free to leave me a comment.

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Reading Your Own Work for Entertainment

>> Monday, September 10, 2012

Lots of things inspire and encourage me and, I'm sure, most of the rest of you who are interested in writing. Praise is good, of course. So is being paid/published.

Even so, being open to that sort of thing has a down side. NOT getting paid or published (no matter how little work you've actually devoted to marketing) is NOT encouraging. And even the most devoted friend/fan can't stoke your ego constantly. For one thing, writing is time consuming so they either have to gush constantly over the same small tract of writing (which hardly makes it sound sincere) or their compliments are likely interspersed with long patches of not much.

If you want to write and need something to keep you from getting to disheartened to write, reading both good and bad literature can help. The good because being swept away reminds you why you wanted to write in the first place. The bad to remind yourself that it can't be hopeless for your own work or this book would never have made the light of day.

And both good and bad literature are great learning tools. The bad can be a smorgasbord of what you don't want to do yourself; the good a feast of what you do want to do. In my case, my reaction when I read a book tells me instantly if it's a good book, great book or garbage. Garbage I don't want to read and won't read past the point when I feel I've either never stood at risk of writing that poorly or that I've already picked up all their bad habits and can move on. Good stuff I still pick apart but find myself driven to read more because (probably) there's a character in there I just want to know what happens to. Or it has a thought-provoking premise or it grew on me, even while I was picking it to pieces.

The great stuff, the stuff I put in my bedroom books shelves (I have five, floor to ceiling) are the books I completely forgot to pick apart because I was too caught up in the story and people and stuff. Stuff I love to read over and over and over again. So far, at least to date, I eventually get to the point where I can pick it apart and figure out why it worked so well for me. But these books, even after I've "figured 'em out," are still a joy to read over and over again and, with no effort, I can lose myself again.

Frequently, it's books like that that get me writing again.

So, anyway, I haven't been writing. I tried to edit one of my (I thought) better novels and had to stop because I decided it was all garbage. Can't edit that way because, a) if it's true, there's no sense writing anyway and b) if it's not, you don't have the perspective to make it better if you're thinking that way.

Well, this past weekend, instead, I read a novel I really enjoyed writing and I read it for fun, just read it without editing, except for a few word choices or typos, and let myself get immersed, let myself laugh and get emotionally torn up and all the things I want my book to do to someone else. You know what? I loved it! Man, I rock!

So, now I'm ready to edit the book that came before it, not because it has no flaws but because now I know those flaws can be handled and that it's worth it. Because the world I'm building is worth it.

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It's All About the Story

>> Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I've talked before about the importance of story, of everything bowing down to the importance of the story. Admittedly, I've given far more time and effort to characterization that storytelling, but that's because it's my favorite aspect, not that it's more important. For me, it's a crucial element to telling a story, because a story, without someone at the center, someone having events happen to them and reacting to them isn't a story. I say this because I was reminded yesterday, of what makes a great story.

I have read lots of things over the years, and learned from almost all of it, every genre, forms of prose and poetry. Movies, shows, drivel, classics, I devoured them all, leaching out experience, what I wanted to emulate, what I wanted to avoid and, once in a while, becoming inspired.

I can remember when I first really became interested in writing short stories, earnestly and fantasy in particular, reading a singular compelling story called "Spoils of War" by Jennifer Roberson in Sword and Sorceress V (edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley). The prose read almost like poetry with cadence and power, each word exactly right, almost like a musical composition, building to a crescendo and a surprise denouement. Great stuff.

And it doesn't matter the genre, a great story is a great story. It doesn't have to have action or magic or even humor. It's story is a recitation of some experience that changes one or more lives (real or fictional), which can include reactions from the characters or just how they change and grow as a result. And, growth, boys and girls, means the character(s) learn something.

But sometimes I get so caught up in doing something clever or complex or imaginative, make it entertaining but meaningful and original that I forget that there are lots of things that make a story great. And sometimes, what it is is simplicity, with no more words than required to tell the reader everything they need to get the maximum impact from the story.

It's no secret that, at least recently, I've really found myself fascinated, even obsessed, with manga and anime. It's not just "foreign" comics; it's storytelling and I think part of me is fascinated because so much of the story is pictured not said. And some of its very powerful.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this story, one of four from Garden Dreams by Yoshinaga Fumi and the only one of the chapters I found on-line. (Note, not yaoi or with any gay overtones, no overt sex or violence). Yet, it was perfectly complete standing on its own. Again, I was caught up in the cadence, the pacing, revealing and hiding things in perfect time like an excellent musical composition. For me, it was a masterpiece in storytelling, not only in the tiny pittance of words used and the expressive and powerful artwork, but in the wealth of concepts, emotions and power that were never expressed and yet clearly communicated.

Damn.

I'd forgotten how very powerful simplicity could be.

No bells whistles. No action. No fighting. No clever schemes. No sex. No world to save. No thigh-slapping humor. Just a man shaped by and shaping his fate. Set in a time theoretically like the Crusades, but easily identifiable here and now. At least for me.

And having found it, I'm pointing it out to others who might appreciate it (note that I bought the book quite inexpensively on amazon.com 'cause that's how I roll.).

Note: For those of you who feel like complaining because I mentioned a manga here and I have a blog just for that. I do have a blog for that and I intend to write at considerable length about the mangaka, Yoshinaga Fumi there. But this was about storytelling and very appropriate, in my opinion, right here.

And it's my blog so I get to decide.

Update: I did write about Yoshinaga Fumi on my otaku blog here  and here.

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I Don't Get the Big Deal About "The Hunger Games"

>> Saturday, August 18, 2012

I don't do reviews, as a general rule (manga/anime is an exception but that's on a different blog). Several reasons for this, not the least of which is that my tastes are eclectic (VERY eclectic) and I'm generally focused on one aspect of the story to the exclusion (and forgiveness) of all others. And, let's not forget, I'm weird.

But, I do bring things up if they make me pause, especially if they have the potential to entice me to write again. There are two things that do that - a story/character I adore that makes me want to do something better with my writing or inspires me on a hitherto unforeseen writing path...and a story that is quite successful commercially that makes me roll my eyes and wonder what the heck is going on. 

My daughter is a fan of The Hunger Games, and she's one of many many others. People love the book (disclaimer, I haven't read it) and gush about the movie, too. My daughter loved them both when she was quite critical of the movie Twilight despite her delight in the books (which she no longer has). I liked the Twilight books myself (and the movies, I might add) though not in the everyone-should-love-this sort of way but more in the this-is-an-intriguing-character sort of way. And, for those of you who know me, one character I really enjoy is all I need to forgive plenty of other things (including some "science" that still makes me cringe if I think about it).

She's got a decent batting average, actually, on introducing me to stuff I really like and hit a homerun with the anime Bleach I've spent the summer addicted to. Loved a number of characters, the premise, etc. But other stuff she wants me to try, well, it's hit or miss.

Now, if you love the books and haven't seen the movie or haven't delved into either but want to and don't want spoilers STOP READING NOW. 'Cause I can't tell you what bothered me without telling you about the story, so there are spoilers galore out there. And I'm not saying you can't like it for whatever reason you liked it. I, however, did not.

First off, it's depressing. I know that's in with YA literature right now, but I don't like being depressed unless there's a good reason for it, so you get a pass from me with an oppressive air talking about the holocaust (which was depressing and gruesome but a good lesson to remember) and not one on a notional fictional future that, as far as I could see, made no damn sense at all. Not that there isn't plenty of SF that doesn't make sense, but often the characters made sense or there was a point, or, at least, it was funny (think Demolition Man).

We start off with our oppressed people, tormented for 74 years due to uprising against what was, apparently, Big Brother, direct from 1984 (I guess he showed up late). The punishment for this effrontery was to take people at random from the areas that rebelled and make 'em fight it out to the death, Gladiator meets Survivor style and the winner gets glory and riches and stuff. Now, first off, that's a stupid punishment. What government's gonna care, even a local one? The whole dingy shanty-town area (replete with coal miners in the enlightened future) is surrounded by lush landscape which no one is farming or making of use of in any way, while the shanty-town inhabitants stave off starvation by working for Big Brother and killing small game.

Old concept, which, as a die-hard historian and SF reader, I've read versions of at least a dozen times. A handful of cliches, obvious (and, truth told, effective) emotional manipulations (like kill the twelve year old friend so, when we take out the "bad guys" at the end because we had no choice (kill or be killed), the reader/viewer will nod their head and say, "Serves 'em right." Same tactic has been used in at least half the James Bond movies). In the end, they "outsmart" Big Brother and she doesn't have to kill everyone, but even that doesn't make sense. (It's all about giving hope while reminded the people who's in charge WHILE still getting great ratings. Letting the two commit suicide fits way better (and is far more eye-catching) than letting potentially dangerous renegades get off scott free.)

But I'd likely forgive all this if I just liked somebody. I like strong female protagonists, so you'd think I'd like this one, but she's not particularly savvy, she's willing to use people and, in fact, has only the fact she's willing to go in her sister's place to recommend her. Nice gesture but not enough to make her a likeable character.

Or, if there was a point. I know, lessons are not supposed to be in stuff today, but I gotta say, when I spend a couple hours watching something, I either want to be entertained or intrigued. I need a point or an interesting character to be intrigued, or at least something original. I seriously didn't see the point. I'm glad it was just a couple of hours wasted rather than taking the time to read it.

Or maybe I just missed it. In any case, whatever makes this the delight of thousands if not millions, I don't get it.

Note - I might be oversensitive. I have a survival type story, in fact, two novels. No cameras but survival is still the name of the game with some internal hostility. Ah, but in mine, people have to work together. Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong. 

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EPublished!

>> Thursday, May 3, 2012

I thought I'd put a link in a previous comment but apparently I messed that up.

As I'd mentioned earlier, I was to be published on May 1 in the redesigned and now mostly on-line SQ Magazine. Well, I wasn't lied to nor was I lying. It was in the second edition of the reenvisioned magazine: Masks.

I'm hoping all those links work, or at least one of them. Any one working will get you the rest of the way.

More writing news as it happens.

So it might take a while :).

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